2014 Conference Recap
The University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center (WRRC) annual conference, “Closing the Gap Between Water Supply and Demand,” was held April 8, 2014 at the UA Student Union Memorial Center in Tucson. Organized in collaboration with the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR), the conference attracted 350 attendees from 49 Arizona communities, and featured presentations and commentary from speakers, panelists and audience members. A poster session, with 24 water-themed posters, included a competition for best student poster and a celebration of the WRRC’s 50th anniversary.
The WRRC would like to thank our very generous conference sponsors, which included public and private organizations throughout Arizona. We would also like to thank the keynote speakers, moderators, panelists, sponsors, attendees, volunteers, students and staff who helped make our 2014 Annual Conference such a success.
Michael Lacey (Director, ADWR) opened the conference with a keynote speech on ADWR’s recently released publication, “Arizona’s Next Century: A Strategic Vision for Water Supply Sustainability.” Lacey delved into Arizona’s diversity of water supply opportunities, including groundwater storage, recycled water, revised watershed management practices, weather modification, rainwater harvesting and stormwater capture, and ocean water desalination. He also addressed the multitude of challenges to be addressed in closing Arizona’s water supply gap, including complex physical water availability, confounding legal concerns, land ownership issues, and unresolved water right claims.
Kay Brothers (Co-Chair, Colorado River Basin Study Next Steps Working Groups Coordination Team) next addressed the audience on the details of the Basin Study and the history of the unprecedented recent population growth within the Basin, noting that the study was conducted to provide a technical foundation for future planning and activities. Brothers told the near-capacity crowd that Basin States must consider both people and other water users in water management planning, and that all avenues of closing the gap should be considered, including conservation, reuse, desalination, water transfers and more.
Tom Buschatzke (Assistant Director Water Planning Division, ADWR), moderated the first panel of the conference, “Closing the Gap Basin-Wide.” Taylor Hawes (The Nature Conservancy), spoke to the audience on “Healthy Flows” and the need to meet long-term water needs not just for people, but also for the environment and recreation, pointing out that environmental needs must be specific to different locations. Reagan Waskom (Director, Colorado Water Institute, Colorado State University), presented on “Agricultural Conservation and Water Transfers,” and addressed current and future conservation programs and potential water savings in agriculture. Waskom discussed the legal, environmental, institutional and social challenges to agricultural water savings, and spoke of the need to develop efficiency projects and evaluate them for both impacts and costs. Carol Ward-Morris (Program Manager, Demand Management and Sustainability, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association), spoke about “Municipal and Industrial Conservation and Water Reuse,” and stressed that water planning must be comprehensive, and that conservation and reuse alone cannot solve water supply problems. She further stated that information must be compiled on successful conservation and reuse programs to highlight these strategies as a successful avenue for Closing the Gap. Jason John (Director, Navajo Nation Water Management Branch) addressed the audience on “Water Resources of the Navajo Nation,” citing the challenges of participating in the Basin Study because of complexities posed by several state boundaries and more than 30 tribes within the Basin. John pointed out that the Navajo Nation relies largely on groundwater, and will continue to work with the Next Steps Group to help address water supply issues.
Michael Fulton (Director, Water Quality Division, ADEQ) acted as moderator for the panel, “Closing the Gap: A Menu of Options.” Brad Hill (City of Flagstaff Utilities Director) focused his presentation on conservation and reuse efforts in Flagstaff, noting that 66 percent of the city’s reclaimed water is recharged in the Rio de Flag. Hill said the city has already enacted several ordinances to conserve water. Nathan Bracken (Legal Counsel, Western States Water Council) spoke about voluntary intra-state water transfers and land fallowing as potential supply gap solutions in the Western United States, pointing out that successful water transactions must focus on building long-term relationships. Tim Thomure (Water Reuse Practice Lead, HDR Engineering, Inc.) presented on potable reuse as a way to address water supply and demand imbalances. Thomure spoke about the need to build trust about reuse and stated that impediments can be solved by finding a common terminology, creating a solid structure around reuse capable of withstanding election changes, and gathering case studies to help develop best practices.
The “Closing the Gap: Arizona Perspectives” panel was moderated by Bruce Hallin (Director, Water Rights and Contracts, Salt River Project). Tom Davis (General Manager, Yuma County Water Users Association) opened the session with a presentation on Yuma farmers’ perspectives on the water supply-demand gap. Davis said farmers already use water efficiently to cultivate crops, and pointed to a need for an economic benefit for farmers to increase efficiencies. John Kmiec (Utilities Director, Town of Marana), spoke about how the Tucson AMA experienced dramatic groundwater declines over the past 60 years, which have rebounded in many, though not all areas since the development of recharge projects for CAP and reclaimed water. He emphasized the value of local communities working together to address water needs. Nicole Horseherder (To Nizhoni Ani, Water Rights Task Force, Navajo Nation) presented the water challenges of the Black Mesa, where residents are primarily farmers and ranchers who rely on groundwater. Horseherder proposed the need for future green infrastructure and renewable energy projects on the Mesa, as well as more stringent legislation to protect the Mesa’s water supplies. Maggie Gallogly (Director, Fennemore Craig) spoke on the real estate industry’s perspective, noting a general openness to water efficiency mandates if they are proven to work. Gallogly said new housing developers were concerned about the availability of groundwater supplies, and pointed out that if private developers need to acquire their own water sources, competition for supplies is likely to increase. Kelly Mott Lacroix (Analyst and Ph.D. candidate, UA WRRC) addressed the audience on the water needs of Arizona’s natural areas. Ecosystems will change in response to variations in their water supply, she said, meaning that water managers must decide what type of ecosystem best fits with long-range water strategies, and plan for that. Few laws currently exist to legally protect environmental water and the challenge is to treat human and environmental water needs as complementary, not competing. Joe Gysel (President, Epcor Water USA) presented an overview of his company’s water resources and services, noting that water customers need to receive better price signals to understand the true costs of water, and also stating that utilities need a new model for remaining solvent as conservation reduces water use.
The final panel of the day – “Closing the Gap: How Can We Do It?” – was moderated by WRRC Director Sharon Megdal. Opening speaker Jennifer McCloskey (Deputy Regional Director, Lower Colorado Region, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation) noted that the Colorado River is in the midst of a 14-year drought, and spoke about possible ways to close the gap, involving agreements among states and Mexico and improved operation of the Colorado River system. Kathy Ferris (Executive Director & Legal Counsel, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association) said water conservation efforts would always be necessary but will never close the gap on their own. Ferris said population growth in AMWUA municipalities had gone up 152 percent since 1980, but water use over the same period had only increased 82 percent. She called for smarter growth of cities to take advantage of existing water infrastructure, and said groundwater mining cannot be the way to stretch Arizona’s supplies. Rick Lavis (Executive Vice President, Arizona Cotton Growers Association) addressed the audience on the need for more inclusiveness in the politics of water policy management. Lavis pointed to the need for leadership in the creation of Arizona water policy and the need to educate legislators and staff on water issues. George Arthur (Immediate Past President, Colorado River Water Users Association, Ten Tribes Partnership) spoke of the need for more tribes to be included in future Colorado River studies to ensure accuracy. Arthur said more tribes must be present in water conversations and called for communication, cooperation, listening, and understanding. Tom McCann (Assistant General Manager, Operations, Planning and Engineering, Central Arizona Project) presented on the fact that the Basin States’ water supply situation today was predicted in the 1960s and 70s. McCann pointed out that now is the time for action and the solutions available to close the gap will involve money and will be challenging. Sandra Fabritz-Whitney (Director of Water Strategy, Freeport-McMoRan) called for people to stop pointing fingers, and said solutions will be found when politicians, businesses, individuals, cities and towns work together. Fabritz-Whitney pointed to the ADWR Strategic Vision as an attempt at a solution to Arizona’s water supply gap, and emphasized the need to stop only talking about solutions, and start enacting them. Rodney Lewis (Attorney, Gila River Indian Community) wrapped up the panel session with a discussion of how tribal groups must work together to help close the water supply-demand gap. Lewis noted how past attitudes toward working with tribes have changed and that, as settlements have shown, tribes can be a vital part of the solution.
WRRC Director Sharon B. Megdal closed out the panel session by urging panelists and others to continue the conversation following the close of the conference. She noted the importance of finding solutions for educating Arizona legislators on water, and called for more people to engage in water discussions. “I think we need to get people excited about water without getting them alarmed,” she said. “Because we don’t have a crisis, but we need to excite people into action before we do have a crisis.”
A special lunch session included “Audience Voices,” an opportunity for attendees to present questions and concerns about water in Arizona. A number of audience members spoke about a range of water topics, including water for the environment, water conservation, and Native American water rights and infrastructure concerns.
The poster session, sponsored by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, included 24 posters, 14 of which were entered into a student poster competition. Three winners were announced at the close of the conference. The second-place winner of a $150 prize was Todd McOmber (University of Arizona Dept. of Soil, Water and Environmental Science) for his poster, “Is Treated Wastewater Effluent Improving the Water Quality of the Upper Santa Cruz River?” A tie for first place and a $250 prize (each) went to Hwee Hwang (University of Arizona Dept. of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics) for his poster, “Comparison of Regional Water Supply System Sustainability, Robustness, and Resilience for Two Different Tank Operations,” and Aloah Pope (University of Arizona School of Natural Resources and the Environment) for her poster, “Linking Bayesian and Agent-Based Models to Simulate Complex Social-Ecological Systems in the Sonoran Desert.”